More than 22 veterans commit suicide a day. The Department of Veteran Affair’s crisis hotline – the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary– received more than 450,000 calls in 2014, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.
According to the VA’s own office of inspector general, one in six calls are redirected to backup centers when the crisis line is overloaded. Some of these calls went to voicemail — where some staffers were unaware that there was even a voicemail.
How Many Veteran Suicides Are Okay?
Some calls that are not sent to voicemail are put on hold or fail to make it through to a responder. This on top of long wait times as well.
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson did state that the VA is hiring more staff and implementing staggered shifts to make sure there is more staff during peak call times.
Suicide is a final solution to mounting frustrations for 117 people per day — mostly middle-aged white men. One in five of all suicides in the United States are committed by veterans and the VA has highlighted suicide prevention as a crucial area of concern — as has the Obama administration. However, since 2007 the number of veteran suicides has climbed from 18 per day to over 22 per day.
The emotional costs of suicide can’t be measured — the actual dollar costs to the U.S. related to suicides exceeds $44 billion a year. The cost of suicide on all fronts is extremely high and has warranted attention and billions of dollars to find solutions.
Yet, it continues. As one individual who planned to commit suicide but ultimately aborted that decision stated, “Deliberately ending my life is the ultimate personal freedom. No matter what any person or government takes from me, this one freedom remains.”
Changing the focus from programs to purpose and establishing real-time support networks is working in some groups.
Special Forces veteran Johnny Primo was so impacted by a fellow brother’s suicide that he chose to do something about it by establishing a way for veterans to get immediate access to help and not be put on hold.
Primo launched an Instagram suicide prevention page called “22 Too Many.” Veterans responded immediately — within the first 24 hours they saved five people who were on the verge of suicide.
Primo now has over 17,000 followers – most are people who are willing to take calls from veterans contemplating suicide.
Bottom line: Regardless of social status, color, religion or political beliefs, every life matters. Relying on the government to solve problems is not a solution. It is time to get back to the spirit of America, which grew from neighbor helping neighbor and people focused on each other, not their phones. Take time to listen — really listen. By doing so, you might actually save a life.
– By Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs